The isolation of J.D. Salinger

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The isolation of J.D. Salinger

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Editat: set. 1, 2013, 11:23am

Today's CBS Sunday Morning TV show features a documentary filmmaker who says that being a US soldier in World War II (on Utah Beach in the Normandy invasion, then in the Battle of the Bulge, then releasing Holocaust survivors at a death camp) was both the making of Salinger the writer and the breaking of Salinger the person. The 1940s was way before the diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was available.

With that in mind, I'm going to re-read The Catcher in the Rye for the first time in decades.

My father was in a POW camp in eastern Germany for 18 months, and was never able to talk about his experiences...his weight was around 100 pounds when the war ended (he was not a tall person, but still...); his camp was liberated by Russian forces, and even on the train out of there, he had to sell his winter coat in order to buy something to eat. Tough times, very tough.

The parents of the Baby Boom generation achieved amazing things - they made it through the Great Depression, they they made it through World War II and raised their own families - incredible stuff, BUT they were not a psychological generation, however the Baby Boomers did become the first psychologically aware generation. The Catcher in the Rye is a psychological masterpiece, and I think that's why it continues to resonate with readers, especially since the 1960s, because it was the first to find the words, from the vocabulary of the 1950s, that explored the psychology of youth alienation and the start of the healing journey. Salinger's great achievement was in describing the psychology of that journey, even though he himself was of the forerunner generation, born in 1919.

That new documentary opens Sept. 6, 2013:

There's also a forthcoming book version, also becoming available in September 2013:

Salinger the book is not yet touchstoning, but is written by David Shields and Shane Salerno; publisher is Simon & Schuster. The ISBN-13 number is: 9781476744834

Editat: set. 1, 2013, 4:12pm

1 -- "The 1940s was way before the diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was available."

Well, not quite. The term "posttraumatic stress disorder" originated during Vietnam. "Shell shock," to describe a similar if not identical condition, was coined in a medical journal during World War I. My mom's father, a soldier in WW1, suffered from shell shock. I suspect the condition might even be centuries older, regardless of what it was called. One need not be a soldier, moreoever, to suffer from PTSD. Any trauma can cause it and almost anything can cause trauma.

I don't know what treatment my grandather received. I suspect none. Grandma remembered him sitting bolt upright in the middle of the night yelling about being killed and so on. I have his discharge papers. He lived a fairly normal and happy life, to the degree that those words have any objective meaning. He was a good man.

When World War II ended, J. D. Salinger went from combat to being an intelligence officer for the de-Nazification of Germany. After this long period, which often meant going door to door to interrogate people to see if they were spies, he voluntarily admitted himself into a hospital in Austria. He spent a year there and married his nurse. A year or two later he divorced his wife, left Austria for home, New York City, and picked up where he left off, writing again and living a vibrant social life—he was tall, dark, and handsome, and now a veteran. Gradually problems began to arise, usually with his temper. If he had therapy or treatment of any kind after the war, I have seen no record of it so far (the movie opens next week). The only postwar story he wrote, and it may be his finest work, is "For Esmé and Squalor" in Nine Stories.

There is no cure for PTSD. Then or now.

Tom Shippey, the Tolkien scholar, suggested that Tolkien created his fiction, his elaborate mythology and legendarium, as a way of coming to terms with his experience in World War I. Tolkien lost all three of his best friends, his schoolmates, all in their early '20s, and took part in what must have been incomprehensible horror. In Tolkien and the Great War, John Garth picks up Shippey's point that certain authors who had fought in combat, men who were oversensitive to begin with, found the form of the realistic novel inadequate to deal with the horrors—evil, if you don't mind the word— they had faced. They had no language for what they felt, no means of communicating to people their experience. Therefore Tolkien, Vonnegut, Orwell, and Golding turned to various forms of fantasy, often using irony as a form of distancing, to separate their work, if not themselves, from reality while communicating in an oblique way a fundamental, unpleasant truth inherent in reality.

set. 9, 2013, 12:31pm

set. 9, 2013, 9:08pm

#3 - Within the last 6 months, I saw a newspaper or magazine article that discussed the so-far-successful treatment of most PTSD with supervised video game experiences... Apparently the reprocessing of a psychological trauma in the direction of healing is being documented.